WEST GLACIER — National parks drew almost 4.5 million people to Montana in 2012, and they spent more than $400 million in the state, according to a report released Monday by the National Park Service.
Yellowstone had 3,447,729 visitors that spent more than
$400 million in communities in and near the park in Montana and Wyoming, according to the report.
Only a small sliver of Yellowstone is located in Montana, although three of the park’s five entrances are. The report indicated that 51 percent of Yellowstone’s visitors entered via Montana. It also said spending by Yellowstone visitors supported 5,619 local jobs in Montana and Wyoming.
Montana also has a national monument, historic site and recreation area administered by the National Park Service.
The Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument is the most popular of those. It had more than 346,000 visitors in 2012 that spent more than $18 million, supporting 288 jobs in the area.
The Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area drew more than 245,000 visitors who spent almost $10 million and supported 140 jobs. The Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site in Deer Lodge had 17,095 visitors who spent more than $900,000, supporting 15 jobs.
In northwestern Montana, Glacier National Park accounted for nearly 2.2 million visitors and $172 million spent in communities near the park, the report says.
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell used the annual report’s unveiling to encourage people in national park gateway communities to emphasize the importance of national parks on local economies to their congressional delegations.
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“It is true that funding has been on a decline for some time,” Jewell said Monday morning in a telephone news conference from America’s most-visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. “One silver lining (with the report’s release) is that communities realize how much they’re getting” from tourist dollars.
Jewell said the National Park Service has an $11 billion backlog of maintenance projects. For every dollar Congress invests in national parks, she added, $10 is returned to the economies of local communities.
The report says visitor spending supported 2,754 jobs in towns near Glacier. Yellowstone National Park figures were, as usual, higher.
The national numbers Jewell and the director of the National Park Service, Jonathan Jarvis, released say the 401 units the service administers drew 283 million visitors who spent $14.7 billion in communities within 60 miles of a national park.
The spending supported nearly a quarter of a million jobs, including 201,000 in gateway communities, and added $26.75 billion to the U.S. economy. Almost half the jobs come in the restaurant, bar and lodging businesses.
U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber and Lynne Koontz conducted the peer-reviewed spending analysis.
The National Park Service has been releasing an economic impact report for 24 years now, although Jarvis cautioned that the survey had undergone major revisions in its software designed to make numbers more accurate and, in the future, more timely.
The 2012 numbers released Monday are, of course, already 14 months old. The agency did not release the report until after Jewell and Jarvis had finished their national telephone news conference, which moderators ended after about 29 minutes and about half a dozen questions. Jewell indicated that the annual report could be released by the summer following a calendar year, rather than more than a year later, in the future. They also released a separate report estimating the cost of last year’s federal government shutdown to gateway community economies. The closing of the national parks in October resulted in nearly 8 million fewer visitors and an estimated loss of $414 million in visitor spending, they said.